A veteran who suffers from illnesses or injuries sustained through a service-connected event may receive a disability rating and compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
But what if you receive a rating that you believe is lower than what you deserve? That’s where a higher-level review and VA Form 20-0996 come into play.
What is a Higher-Level Review?
If you believe you have been rated unjustly by the VA, you want a second opinion, or you believe the VA’s decision on your claim was made in error, you can request that your claim be reevaluated by a decision review officer at a VA Decision Review Operations Center. This is called a higher-level review.
The higher-level review is one of three appeals processes introduced in the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program of 2017. A higher-level review calls for your claim to be sent to a different rater (usually a decision review officer) to be reevaluated using the same evidence submitted at the time of the initial decision. Even if the same decision is made, a higher-level review can provide you with more time to find additional evidence in support of your claim, especially if you are close to the appeal deadline.
You are allowed to request a higher-level review of an initial or supplemental claim decision. You cannot request a higher-level review on a claim that has already received a higher-level review or on a contested claim.
Once you receive your initial decision letter, you have one year from the date on the letter to request a higher-level review.
VA Form 20-0996
If you decide to pursue a higher-level review of the VA’s decision on your disability claim, you will need to submit VA form 20-0996. You can access this form online, at a regional VA office, or by calling the VA to request a form be mailed to you.
The first section of the form includes your basic identifying information, like your full name, social security number, date of birth, service number, VA file number, etc.
The second section of VA form 20-0996 involves your options for a higher-level review. You can request that your review take place at the same office as your original decision or at a different office. Next, you need to decide if you would like an informal conference with the decision review officer that is performing your higher-level review. This conference takes place over the phone, during which you may point out factual or lawful errors in the previous decision.
In the next section, you will need to indicate which issues for which you are requesting a higher-level review. You will write out the specific issues to be reviewed along with the current ruling you have on each issue.
Once you sign and date your application for a higher-level review, it is authorized for use by the VA and may be returned to the VA by mail, fax, or in-person.
You will likely receive a decision on your higher-level review within 5 months of submitting VA form 20-0996.